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Wednesday, July 25, 2012
O'Brien has contract extended four years

By Brian Bennett

CHICAGO -- A few minutes ago, we spotted Penn State coach Bill O'Brien walking through the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place, getting a feel for the lay of the land at Big Ten media days.

O'Brien has been a very busy man who has had to be in crisis mode the past few days. But there is some good news for the first-year Nittany Lions coach.

O'Brien's contract calls for the deal to be automatically extended by the same length as any NCAA sanctions incurred by the previous staff. O'Brien's agreement was originally a five-year deal; now it will be a nine-year contract. His salary is $2.3 million per year.

We'll see if O'Brien wants to stay at Penn State that long, but at least he has some measure of security as he tries to navigate through these difficult waters.

Could the situation have been even worse for the Nittany Lions? School president Rodney Erickson told "Outside the Lines" that Penn State originally faced a four-year death penalty before the NCAA settled on the four-year bowl ban, loss of scholarships and $60 million fine. NCAA president Mark Emmert confirmed the report. From Don Van Natta Jr.'s story:
"Emmert told Erickson in a phone conversation on July 17 that a majority of the NCAA's leadership wanted to levy the four-year penalty because of Penn State's leaders' roles in covering up the child sexual abuse of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.

"Well, that's a pretty tough number to swallow," Erickson said he recalled thinking when told of the four-year possibility by Emmert. "It's unprecedented. It's a blow to the gut; there's no doubt about that ... I couldn't agree to that at all."

"Almost immediately after that conversation, intensive discussions between Penn State and the NCAA began in earnest, Erickson said. Penn State lobbied for the NCAA to take the death penalty off the table, and the NCAA described a series of other sanctions, both "punitive and corrective" in nature.

"The discussions were so secretive that most members of Penn State's embattled Board of Trustees had no idea they were happening, several trustees said."

Wow. A four-year death penalty would have basically wiped Penn State football off the map, and it would have given the Big Ten little choice but to move forward without the Nittany Lions. It might have even forced the league to look for expansion options. It would have also been a ridiculously harsh penalty.

Ed Ray, chairman of the NCAA's executive committee, told Adam on Monday that Penn State was never threatened with the death penalty. That seems very hard to believe in light of this latest report.

Erickson is facing some heat from Penn State supporters and even trustees for accepting the sanctions that the school got. But it looks like he may have avoided a much worse fate.